Division of labor

   Karl Marx discusses the division of labor at various points in his writings, and it clearly is a topic of particular significance in his thought. In his earlier writings, notably The German Ideology (1846), Marx talks about it in fairly loose terms referring to the various divisions of labor, for example, between mental and manual work and between town and country. Private property, class relationships, the state and ideology are all identified as consequences of the division of labor, and the claim that communist society will involve the abolition of the division of labor is strongly made in The German Ideology. Later, in Capital I, Marx makes a distinction between the social division of labor and the division of labor in manufacture or production. The former refers to the separation of functions in society as a whole, constituting a system of independent producers linked only in the course of exchange. In capitalism different entrepreneurs produce different commodities in what Marx sees as an unorganized form of “anarchy.” The division of labor in manufacture refers to the “despotic” organization of workers, each allocated a very specific function, and none wholly responsible for the manufacture of a commodity, only of a part of a commodity. As machinery advances and becomes more widespread in capitalist production, the worker becomes more and more an automaton, an appendage of the machine, crippled in mind and body, and possessing limited or no skills.
   Slightly more circumspectly than in his early works, Marx in Capital acknowledges the need for some technical division of labor and specialization, but the division of labor will no longer involve the individual being subject to structures and processes created but no longer controlled by human beings, and being dehumanized in work that denies the possibility of self-realization.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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